By Your Command 2: The Unofficial And Unauthorised Guide To Battlestar Galactica Volume 2 by Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore (book review).
Where the first volume, ‘By Your Command: The Unofficial And Unauthorised Guide To Battlestar Galactica Volume 1’, covered the two original series alongside the general themes and development of the ‘Battlestar Galactica’ universe, this second volume, By Your Command: The Unofficial And Unauthorised Guide To Battlestar Galactica Volume 2’ focuses on the very successful reimagining of the show. This includes the mini-series, the four-season serial, the various TV movies, and the spin-off show, ‘Caprica’.
Much of what was said about the first volume holds true about this second collection of episode reviews, commentaries and essays. The quality of the writing here is well above average and, by the standards of unofficial fan literature, this book easily earns its place in the top drawer.
Each ‘Battlestar Galactica’ episode gets six or so pages, including a synopsis; a section on the storyline and the themes it presents; a section on character development and continuity with the series as a whole; a section that draws parallels with other shows and even real-world events that influenced the writing team and, finally, a section on the filming of that episode and any significant production choices that might surprise or inform the reader.
‘Caprica’ is reviewed in a similar sort of way but, in far less depth, a series of essays covering all 18 episodes of the first and ultimately only series. The authors’ justification for this, that ‘Caprica’ is merely a spin-off, seems a little weak but they do at least pick up the major ‘Caprica’ themes and run with them. They appreciate the deep and nuanced nature of the show’s characters and critically review the way the show dealt with such issues as religious fundamentalism and the right to life.
The bulk of the book is the 2004-2009 ‘Battlestar Galactica’ series itself and one of their most interesting essays concerns the legacy of the show. On the one hand, they submit, while other shows, like ‘Game Of Thrones’, have matched or exceeded the complex storytelling and nuanced characters of the re-imagined ‘Battlestar Galactica’, such shows have been largely outside the realm of Science Fiction and ‘Battlestar Galactica’ still represents a high water mark within the genre. On the other hand, they correctly point out that, apart from the special case that is ‘Doctor Who’, ‘Battlestar Galactica’ is the only re-imagined show that has been enjoyed both ratings and critical success; indeed, most of the other shows that have tried to reboot 70s and 80s franchises, including ‘Knight Rider’ and ‘The Bionic Woman’, have pretty much sunk without trace.
Although well-disposed towards the show, the authors are honest about its shortcomings and there is a lot of interesting material on how episodes were changed before they were finally broadcast. A number of storylines were dropped, the absence of which can be detectable in the sense that some situations don’t completely satisfy as broadcast. One example the authors discuss in depth, while reviewing the season 3 two-parter, ‘Crossroads’, which they call the ‘Sagittaron arc’. This involved two fan-favourite, Gaius Baltar and Tom Zarek, and was based around the idea that the two men were involved in what turned into a state-sanctioned massacre during a period of civil unrest. Not least of all, this event was why Zarek was on a prison barge at the time the Colonies were attacked. Although the producers ultimately felt the arc was a distraction that viewers wouldn’t really care about, the removal of the Sagittaron arc material meant that Zarek’s history and motives never came across as totally convincing.
There’s some good prehistory, too, with a few pages devoted to each of the attempted reboots of the 70s series put forward first by Richard Hatch (who played Apollo in the original series) and then Brian Singer and Tom DeSanto a few years later. Neither proposal went anywhere, of course, and didn’t really feed into the Ron Moore mini-series that ultimately spawned the four-season show and ‘Caprica’ spin-off. They were interesting attempts at updating the show while hanging onto the elements that made it so memorable.
When all is said and done, the re-imagined ‘Battlestar Galactica’ is probably a show with some very good ideas and excellent acting, but the unevenness of the later seasons and the unbelievability of the final episodes especially mean that its legacy will always be a hot topic for debate. Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore, the authors of ‘By Your Command’ certainly do not avoid facing up to this and they rightly spot the naivety required on the part of the viewer to accept the finale as a workable ending to an otherwise gritty and solid piece of Science Fiction.
That the quality of the re-imagined ‘Battlestar Galactica’ varied from season to season is by no means matched by any variation in the quality of either volume of the ‘By Your Command’ books, which are thoughtful and well researched from start to finish. Highly recommended.
(pub: Telos. 658 page indexed small enlarged paperback. Price: £15.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84583-061-8)
check out website: www.telos.co.uk